HL Deb 11 April 1940 vol 116 cc88-109

4.16 p.m.

THE EARL OF GLASGOW rose to move to resolve, That this House, whilst recognising the just claims of all persons in need of assistance, protests against the action of the Government in recognising illicit liaisons by giving equal allowances to unmarried dependants and wives of soldiers, sailors and airmen and, further, considers that the words defining a given period of six months for cohabitation of unmarried dependants which comes immediately after the word "basis" in Clause 8, Section D, of the Royal Warrant of September 16, 1939, are unnecessary and dangerous to the moral welfare of the nation and should be left out.

The noble Earl said: My Lords, on September 16, 1939, a special Army Order by Royal Warrant was issued making Regulations for allowances for dependants of soldiers in time of national emergency. Clause 2, paragraph (2), of the Schedule states that among the dependants to receive allowances is an "unmarried wife." The title is now changed to "unmarried dependant." A woman who has lived with a soldier as his wife may receive an allowance on condition that she has been wholly or substantially maintained by him on a permanent bona-fide domestic basis for a continuous period of not less than six months immediately before the date of his joining the Colours. May I remind your Lordships that equal allowances are being paid to wives and to mistresses and that the procedure for granting those allowances is the same in each case? I do not mind that so much, but I object to the procedure for the granting of the allowances being the same. No distinction is made between mistresses and wives, and in fact mistresses are raised to the level of wives. I shall be told, of course, that this is merely a continuance from the last war; but that is not strictly so, as I propose to show your Lordships. Even if it were, two wrongs do not make a right.

There is a certain country which has been engaged recently in shameful and unjustifiable aggression, which will receive the news of this action by the Government of a great Christian country with the greatest satisfaction. One of the objects of the leaders of Russia is to destroy family life throughout the world. They will naturally be delighted to know that the British Government have passed an official law which recognises illicit relations and which tends, however unwittingly, to undermine the morality of the people of this country. The Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs stated recently in another place that we were fighting to keep all that was best in civilisation. That is what he stated, and that is what we all hope and believe. What are we to think, then, when in the same place on October 17 it was announced that equal grants and allowances to those given to married women were to be granted to mistresses who cohabit with soldiers six months before they join, and that the method of granting these allowances was not to be distinct and different from the method of granting them to lawful wives? That is an insult to lawful wives, besides going against Christian principle. It is also an encouragement to young men to take mistresses six months before going into the Army. If concubines are to be on the same level as wives, then this orientalism is the beginning of the end. What is the use of the best and highest types of our young men going out and fighting for Great Britain if Great Britain herself has become so immoral—officially—that she ceases to be the Great Britain of Christianity and of civilisation? There can be no neutrality, nor should there be, in my opinion, any tolerance, in this struggle between good and evil.

In moving this Resolution I am conscious that there are many members of your Lordships' House who are much better fitted to take on such a task than myself. I am not a moralist, nor, I hope, am I a Pharisee; I am just a lay member of the public who takes this matter up because I believe that from the moral and religious point of view it is a danger to our people. Everyone knows that a country which becomes unmoral or immoral becomes decadent. Further, I do not desire in any way to lecture any men or women as to how they should live their lives, and I think it is only right now to say that I had no inclination or wish to move this Resolution. A Motion of this importance should have been brought forward in your Lordships' House by someone who is better known in England than I am. I asked, indeed I implored, more than one member of your Lordships' House to take on this task, but with no success. I think that some consider, perhaps, that the public take no interest in this aspect of dependants' allowances, that there is apathy on the matter. I do not believe it for a moment. There may be ignorance, and in fact I know that there is ignorance; but when wives and mothers know of this slight which has been put upon them there will be no apathy, there will be resentment.

This provision passed through another place in the Army Estimates. It was mixed up with other dependants' allowances and did not have a fair discussion. Naturally members in another place were eager to put their points of view on other parts of the question of dependants' allowances, and this matter was not properly discussed. I do not say that it was not discussed; it was discussed, but not sufficiently. If I may say so, what should have been done was that the Government should have put this particular aspect of dependants' allowances separately at the end of the Bill so that it could have been discussed separately. What I object to is that the Government have officially placed mistresses on an equality with wives. I believe that the Government should take some action—we all believe that—but I think that they have taken action in the wrong way. I should like to make it absolutely plain that in proposing this Resolution I have not the slightest intention of denying the just and rightful claims of anyone who has been placed in a precarious position by the present circumstances. So far from that being the case, I fully realise that some provision should be made for unmarried dependants, but I am moved to make this protest because I think that the methods that the Government have seen fit to adopt are subversive of morality and of family life.

Of course there are hard cases. There is the case of the man whose wife has left him and who has taken up with a girl who acts as housekeeper and as mother of the children, if there are any—perhaps the children have been left with him—and perhaps as his mistress. That woman, if she has been living with him for some time, should be looked after. I am told on good authority that when a wife leaves her husband, he will as a rule let her go, and sue for a divorce, but that when a husband leaves the wife she will not sue for a divorce, on the ground that "If I cannot have him for a husband, no other woman shall." There are also many people who object to divorce in any circumstances. Experience shows that the greater number of irregular marriages are due to the husband deserting the wife, and when that happens it is not always easy to get the husband to give the wife her proper allowance. I have in my hand an extract from a newspaper of April 4 which bears out that point. It says: When James Albert Blank, an unemployed labourer, of Blank, Middlesex, was summoned by his wife, at West London for £3 4s. maintenance arrears, it was stated that he received £2 13s. 6d. a week unemployment assistance for his mistress, himself and seven children. Ordering a week's remand the magistrate remarked that it was another case where the wife got nothing. It is going on all over the country to-day, and it shows that it is true to say that a woman living with a soldier may be usurping the rights of a lawful wife.

The case which I have quoted related to an unemployed man and not to a man in the Services, but such cases happen in the case of Service men as well, and in such cases the woman should be considered after the wife. Of course, she may be simply the permanent paramour of an unmarried soldier. In this case, if there are children, they must be considered, and therefore either the mothers and children must be treated as other unmarried mothers with children are, which is impracticable in war-time, or they must be financially helped, as is the case with a properly married woman.

I admit that the question before the Government was not an easy one. By taking the man for a soldier, the State prevents him from discharging the obligations which his relation to the woman, unlawful and illegal as it may be, impose upon him; and therefore some provision for the woman is necessary and just and for the children absolutely necessary. I may be corrected, but it seems to me that the problem before the Government is to prevent hardship to the women and children of unmarried men and yet not to give public countenance to illicit unions by placing them on the same level as honest marriages. The Government have solved the problem by preventing hardship, but they have not, apparently, taken the moral question into consideration. What is wanted—and I believe that here I speak for the wives of Great Britain—is that the legitimate wife and children should be put into a category distinct from that of the unmarried woman. The unmarried women and their children should be dealt with by local authorities, in the same way as girls who have lapses, and the Central Government should supplement the local grant. In other words, wives and lawful children should remain directly dependent on the Central Government, and the Central Government should give the local authorities the power and the means to deal with the unmarried mothers and their children.

It may be said that that is the same thing, since the Central Government would be directly assisting the local authorities. It is not the same thing; there is a great difference, which would be appreciated by wives all through the country. We may be told that it is not desirable to hurt the feelings of or confer a stigma on these persons, but the action of the Government has hurt the feelings of all wives who remain faithful to their husbands in difficult circumstances. In all civilised countries, the position of a wife has been held in honour. The Government, by officially recognising mistresses, are lowering the position of wives and undermining the fabric of family life.

Then there is another question, the question of pensions. If a soldier is killed who has both a wife and a mistress, I understand that they are both to get pensions. I believe that the Minister for War said that the Chancellor of the Exchequer had "come to the rescue." To the rescue of whom? Not of the taxpayers! What it means, I understand, is that both the wife and the mistress are to get pensions, and I should like to ask the noble Viscount who replies to tell me whether that is true or not. If it is true, it seems to me to be iniquitous that the taxpayers should be asked to pay pensions for the mistress and the wife—a double pension.

Perhaps some British wives will thank the most reverend Primate for being instrumental in getting an alteration made in the definition of an "unmarried wife"; but I do not think the majority will be satisfied. The word "wife" is still profaned. There is not much difference between "unmarried wife" and "unmarried dependant living as a wife," which is now the title. This is merely glossing over a situation the truth of which is patent to all. I am perfectly sure the most reverend Primate did his best for the Government, but I do blame the Government for not finding some more just title for these persons. Now how have the Government—I am not sure whether it the War Minister or the Minister of Pensions—approached this matter with the help of their Advisory Committee? I wonder how many of your Lordships have read the debates in another place on this aspect of dependants' allowances. They were entirely materialistic. I know it is not in order to quote in this House the speeches made in another place, but there is nothing to prevent me from generalising. Some of those who were for the Royal Warrant objected to any moralising, and it was obvious that certain lady members who, one feels instinctively, had the moral aspect very much at heart, were with one exception overborne by the general atmosphere. If anyone ever had a right to refer to the moral aspects of a question this is surely such an occasion. After reading those debates one cannot help feeling that the decisions come to were hard-headed material decisions, and that certain aspects and repercussions with regard to allowances to unmarried dependants were not allowed to influence those decisions. I suggest that the Government took carefully into consideration the humanitarian and probably the political point of view, but did not sufficiently take into consideration the moral aspect, which should have taken precedence over the other two.

Now I come to the second part of the Motion on the Paper referring to the six-months period. The old Warrant, which dates from 1919, stated that a woman would receive an allowance if she could prove that she had been maintained by the soldier on a permanent bona-fide domestic basis. In the new Warrant issued last September the following words were added: "continuously for a period of six months before his joining the Colours." This addition is in my opinion entirely unnecessary and undesirable. It may be said, and probably will be said, that if there were no time limit young men might be tempted to take mistresses inside the six-months limit. Surely we can trust the Pensions Committee to make quite sure in their wisdom that the couple had lived together on a permanent bona-fide domestic basis. Supposing they decide even to go under the six-months limit—supposing they decide that the couple could have the allowance if they had lived together for, say, five months: I would much rather that happened than that the Government should make the mistake which they have made, and put in a time limit.

Making the six-months limit is an official call to young men to take mistresses six months before they join the Army. Not only that—and this is more important, because there are a great many of such cases—it is a call to unprincipled young women to tempt lads for their own pecuniary benefit. It is an official call, however unwittingly made, to immorality. If there had to be any limit at all, why should not it be twelve months? But personally I am against all limits. To fix a period of six months, or any form of words indicating a length of time, is entirely unnecessary and dangerous. It strengthens my conviction that the Ministers responsible and the Advisory Committee did not take the moral aspects of this question sufficiently into consideration.

I now refer your Lordships to history. You will remember that Lord Nelson when dying from wounds asked for some pension to be made to Lady Hamilton. He based his request on her supposed political services. Sir William Hamilton had himself recommended her to Nelson for those services, and she was a patriotic and in some ways an able and generous woman; but the Government of early nineteenth century England allowed her to drag out a miserable existence in extreme poverty because, they said, it would be wrong to countenance a woman. of her antecedents. The Cabinet's arguments were that to give her any financial help would be to put a premium on illicit relations. It is a sign of the changed times when the present Government, far from being shocked at illicit relations, in fact invite them and make them a possible means of livelihood to unprincipled women. I do not say that all these women are unprincipled and bad women, but my statement remains true nevertheless.

It may be said—and I have no doubt some of your Lordships are thinking now—"Why bring this up in your Lordships' House? We ought to be going on with the war, it is only a distraction from the war." But this has to do with the war. Do we want to become like Germany or her anti-Christian ally Russia? We are engaged in a struggle between countries on the one side professing Christian principles and, on the other, a Government which does not. We are fighting against the powers of wickedness. We are not only fighting for our own security and freedom and for the security and freedom of small countries but, as the Prime Minister has said, this is a crusade against the forces of evil. It is reported now that no longer in Germany is there any stigma or slur on unmarried girls, even down to the age of fifteen, having babies. The pagan hierarchy of Nazi Germany are pleased if they have babies. As for Russia marriage is a farce there, immorality is rampant and family life is practically destroyed. We do not intend to have that sort of thing in this country. I therefore ask your Lordships to see this protest through and show the country that this House does not agree to a measure which may have a very serious effect on the morality of the nation. I beg to move.

Moved to resolve, That this House, whilst recognising the just claims of all persons in need of assistance, protests against the action of the Government in recognising illicit liaisons by giving equal allowances to unmarried dependants and wives of soldiers, sailors and airmen and, further, considers that the words defining a given period of six months for cohabitation of unmarried dependants which comes immediately after the word "basis" in Clause 8, Section D of the Royal Warrant of September 16, 1939, are unnecessary and dangerous to the moral welfare of the nation and should be left out.—(The Earl of Glasgow.)

4.38 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to be allowed to say a word in support of the Motion of my noble friend, and to thank him for having put it on the Paper. This is a difficult and complicated subject. How on earth any Government could invent an expression like "unmarried wives" I cannot conceive. The present Government are not responsible for having done so originally. This goes back a very long time, and no blame can justly be attached to the Government of to-day for having originated it. At the same time, they seem to have acquiesced somewhat kindly in its continuance. The most reverend Primate came to their assistance the other day and suggested a modification of the term, and it now stands as "unmarried dependant living as a wife" I do not think the most reverend Primate himself is altogether happy about that description, and I cannot help thinking that if the Secretary of State would allow a few of those interested in this question to consult with his officials possibly some further alternative expression might be arrived at.

As my noble friend has said, his Motion rules out those who have claims on public funds owing to the special and peculiar conditions of war, and they are to be entitled to proper consideration. But surely I submit we should not jumble up concubines and respectable married women and be told there is no difference between them. As my noble friend has already said, it is a direct insult to the respectable married women of this country, and as it has become further known, there is a growing feeling against it. The official recognition of concubines attacks the principle of family and home life about which we have been hearing a good deal lately. It is an incentive to immorality; it is a temptation to young girls to secure public money. The real problem is to do justice and prevent misery to women and children, and at the same time not to countenance illicit unions by placing them on a level with honest marriages. No doubt there are many now leading lives of illicit connection who, in other respects, are perfectly respectable members of society, but unfortunately there are others who cannot be so described.

All these illicit connections should be provided for in a different category. My noble friend suggested, as I understood him, the possibility of the local authorities being asked to deal with these illicit cases, leaving proper legitimate cases to be dealt with by the Central Government. I hope something of that kind may be arrived at, because really the feeling is growing very greatly, and there may be trouble about it. I tremble to think of the Prime Minister being asked to receive a deputation on this subject, though I am bound to add that the more work he has to do the better he seems to be, and the better he does it. I cannot help feeling that the Secretary of State might himself form a small committee of those interested to thrash out this question and arrive at some more satisfactory solution than exists at the present time. The public are not fully informed of the actual state of affairs. A great many think that the present Secretary of State is personally responsible for the whole thing, but he is only responsible for having allowed it to continue. He has no responsibility for the origin of it, and I hope my noble friend who is going to reply on behalf of the Government will not bar the door, but will vouchsafe the possibility of the Secretary of State going further into this matter and allowing it to receive further consideration.

4.44 p.m.


My Lords, your Lordships will probably expect me to say a few words on this delicate and painful subject. I do not propose to say much, but having been concerned with it closely since the beginning of the war, I probably know something more about the difficulties, on the one side, of public opinion, and, on the other side, of the Secretary of State than most of your Lordships. We must all agree with a great deal of what has been said so eloquently by my noble friend Lord Glasgow, and we should all deplore any steps that could be regarded as disparaging to the institution of marriage, which is, of course, the real basis of any civilised community. But the position of the women who are under discussion must always be one which arouses within all of us the very greatest possible difficulty.

At the beginning of the last war, in 1914, this matter received quite exceptional consideration. At the outset of that war there seemed to have been very little care taken to make any distinction between the wives of men serving in His Majesty's Forces and women living as their wives, though not married. I suppose one of the most important Committees ever appointed sat upon this matter in the early days of the Great War. It included the Prime Minister, Mr. Lloyd George, Mr. Austen Chamberlain, Mr. McKenna, and all the leading members of the Government and indeed of Parliament at that time. They went very fully into the whole matter, and took an immense amount of evidence. My own revered predecessor, Archbishop Davidson, took great pains in the matter, and himself gave very long and full evidence. The Committee came to two main conclusions. One was that there must be a clear distinction made between a legal wife and an irregular woman living as a wife. As a result of that Committee's very careful consideration of the whole matter, two distinctions were laid down. The first was that whereas the legal wife would receive her allowances as a matter of right, in the case of the other woman they would only be granted after most careful, special investigation directed to establishing that, in deed and in truth, the woman was actually dependent upon the man who was serving in the Forces. The other condition laid down was that no allowance could be made to such a woman unless the soldier who was maintaining her was willing to pay an allowance to her out of his own money.

These were the main recommendations of that Committee. It cannot be said that the Government in this case acted lightly. They had the conclusions of that Committee before them. My own predecessor, who had given, as I say, immense care to the whole matter, was satisfied that if these two distinctions could be made, then he was not prepared to raise any objection to what was done. I have been in constant communication both with public opinion outside, represented by many societies, and with the Secretary of State. With regard to the title of these women, I claim no particular satisfaction in having mentioned a particular title less objectionable than "unmarried wife" to the Secretary of State. I do not think much advantage would be gained by asking the Secretary of State to receive a deputation or to appoint a committee to consider an alternative title. I went through an immense number of alternative titles with him, and, for one reason or another, there seemed to be none that was really satisfactory. The title which he ultimately adopted lays it down that these women cannot be described as wives, but that they are unmarried dependants, only dependants in such reality that they have been living practically as wives with the soldiers in question.

It cannot be fairly said that no distinction is made between the legal wife and these irregular dependants, for in the first place there must be the most careful investigation as to the reality and justice of their claim to be really dependent upon the men who are serving in the Forces. I have a letter from the late Secretary of State, with whom I communicated at the beginning of the war, in which he gave me the most emphatic assurances that an allowance would not be granted from the public funds unless and until the officers dealing with the application were genuinely satisfied that the case was of the type for which we had intended to provide, and that the woman has in fact been in a relationship corresponding with that of the marital relationship, even although she has not been legally married to the man. I should like the noble Viscount, who I presume will reply on this matter, to inform us if he can as to the reality and thoroughness of this investigation made in such a case.

After the beginning of the war in 1914, I understand that investigations were made by the local pensions officers, but in this case I think some special arrangement has been made. I should like, however, to be reassured again, as I was assured by the late Secretary of State for War, that in point of fact there is in every case a most thorough and careful investigation so as to prevent the possibility of any woman claiming to have these rights as against a man, or to prevent the man having casually entered into some kind of relationship with a woman and thereby feeling it right that she should have some allowance. Then again, with regard to the necessity that in this case the man must make some allowance from his own money, I think it is not very likely that a man casually or without very careful thought would enter into these relations with a woman if it meant in his case that he would be obliged to pay out a certain amount of his own money for her maintenance. Therefore I wish it to be understood that it cannot he said, as I think the noble Earl who has spoken implied, that in this case no distinction is made between a man's wife and a man's mistress. Certainly in the first respect the greatest possible difference is made.

May I come for a moment to the question of pensions? There again I do not think it can fairly be said that no distinction is made between the wife and the mistress. I think that if the warrant for the payment of pensions which I have in my hands is carefully read it will be seen that there is a very clear distinction made in the case of the legal wife because she has her pension by right and for life unless, in certain cases, she remarries. If there is both a legal wife and a mistress, the legal wife has the priority, and is entitled to her pension in any case. The mistress, if there be a legal wife, has no such right, and the legal wife has a higher rate of pension. I think it is up to 15s. 6d. a week, with allowances for children. In the case of what I shall call the mistress, she receives only a lower pension of 10s. a week, and that is dependent on whether or not she has a child of whom the soldier is the father. Moreover, the legal wife has her pension secured to her for her life, while in the case of the mistress it is only secured to her in certain conditions which may not materialise. For these reasons I do not think it can be said that there is no real distinction made between the two.

I come now for a moment to the second part of the noble Earl's Resolution, that mentioning a limit of six months. As the noble Earl knows, I have never been able to understand—perhaps it is my obtuseness—why he objects to the mention of six months. It seems to me there must be some limit laid down, otherwise we might have a man taking up with a woman a few weeks before he joins the Colours and then claiming that she was his dependant. There must be some limit, and it must be clearly laid down. Certainly no case should be considered as entitling a woman to an allowance unless for at least six months she has been practically looking to the man for her maintenance and support. Therefore, for that reason alone, I should find myself unable to vote for the noble Earl's Resolution if he presses it to a Division. I find it exceedingly distasteful to me to be apparently attempting to mitigate the lot or defend the position of these irregularly allied women with men in His Majesty's Forces. Nothing could be more distasteful to me, but I think your Lordships will all agree—indeed both noble Lords who have spoken have agreed—that you cannot penalise a woman who has been genuinely dependent on a man and may have children by him because that man is serving in His Majesty's Forces. I think all your Lordships would agree that that is a case which must in all equity be met. The point of importance is the necessity that in such cases, where it is common agreement that some provision must be made for the maintenance and support of these women, it should be made quite clear that their position is not the same as that of a man's properly married wife. Profoundly as I dislike the whole business, I must in honesty say that I think the Secretary of State has secured that there is the vital distinction made between the two classes of women.

Therefore, as I have paid attention to what was said by this very important Committee in 1914, I feel that I cannot support the Resolution of the noble Earl. I think he has done a good service by bringing it forward, because I hope it will give the noble Viscount the opportunity of clearing up many points which have been perhaps misunderstood by the public outside. I would particularly ask him, if he would, to reinforce what I have said about the necessity of careful investigation in every case, and that he would make plain the difference in position with regard to the pension. If that is done, then I repeat, much as I dislike the whole business and much as I resent even appearing to be speaking on behalf of a relationship which I thoroughly deplore, I cannot support what the noble Earl has said in the words in which he has put his Resolution before your Lordships.

4.58 p.m.


My Lords, as a Party, we have no opinion on the merits of this Motion. My noble friends present have asked me to say just one or two things upon one particular aspect of it. First of all, I think the noble Earl, Lord Glasgow, need not apologise for having asked your Lordships to consider what is a very important matter. Our experience tells us that moral standards are very difficult to develop in the course of a nation's history and that they may very quickly be injured, if not destroyed. At the same time we have to remind ourselves that these illicit unions, however unfortunate they may be, are universal; that is to say, they exist in more or less all countries. The difficulty in the case that we are considering seems to me to be this, that the male partner, if we may so call him, is serving in His Majesty's Forces. He did not know that he was to be conscripted and compelled to leave his companion and his children and his home. He was compelled to serve in His Majesty's Forces. In all probability if serving in the Forces had been a voluntary matter he would have placed his domestic responsibilities first. That is one problem that we have to consider.

The second, which specially interests my noble friends and myself, is this, that in the discussion so far almost no attention has been given to the position of the child. It does not matter from the child's point of view how it was born. The fact is that it is there, and when the child is born it becomes England's child to the extent, that is, that England has some responsibility for it. It may happen in the course of that child's development, if it is a male child, that it will be compelled one day to fight and perhaps die in the defence of the country. It seems to us that the country cannot in the years of that child's infancy stick to the pure legal relationships in those circumstances. The noble Lord did not quite clearly tell us what in the circumstances we were to do. If I understood him aright it was that the paramour and the children of these serving soldiers should become dependent upon the public assistance committee—that the local authority might do what would be wrong for the nation to do.


Supplemented by grants, of course, from the Central Government.


My noble friends and I—this is the point which they ask me to emphasize—do not like these children being pauperised, if that is the right word to use, in these circumstances. It is extremely difficult to speak upon this question because one may so easily be misunderstood. Yet I cannot help feeling that my last word must be this, that the moral life of the nation is not necessarily sustained by the strict application of legal enactments but in other ways. Better housing conditions, more security for employment, higher standards of living and other ways will probably do more to sustain the moral life than strict reliance upon these ancient traditions.

5.5 p.m.


My Lords, there is none of your Lordships present or outside this House that would not very largely agree with the terms of the Motion put forward by my noble friend the Earl of Glasgow. He has put it forward on high moral grounds which no one is inclined to dispute, but what he put forward has been very largely answered by the observations that have fallen from the most reverend Primate. Leaving aside the whole question of the morality of the status of the man, it is a fact that to-day very clear emphasis is laid upon the difference in status between the official wife and the official children, if I may so call them, and the woman who is living with a man and has had children by a man, but whose union with him has not been solemnised by holy matrimony. As the most reverend Primate said, this matter has engaged the most serious attention of practically every member of His Majesty's Government, and not only since the commencement of this war. It was considered not only when the militiamen first began to be called up but also in the years 1914 and 1915, when, I would remind your Lordships, the whole of the Army, Navy and Air Force was being recruited voluntarily. The question of compulsion had not then arisen. When we were asking men to join the Forces and to fight for their country and to jeopardise their lives this matter seriously engaged the attention of the Government of the day, in order that the people normally dependent upon those men in their private lives should not suffer hardship, perhaps starvation. That is the basis upon which the War Office must regard this matter first and foremost—from the point of view of the man, so that he should not have to withdraw himself for training in this country or for service with the Forces overseas constantly harassed by the idea that those with whom he has made a home are left in want and in poverty.

It is stressed in some quarters—it has been referred to by the noble Earl—that these people are necessarily immoral. On the highest standards of ethics perhaps they would be called so, but the noble Earl knows the world as well as I do and he knows that in many parts of this country this condition arises from the sheer poverty of the people. Men have married, the marriage has broken down, they want somebody to look after them and to keep their homes together. Why not get a divorce and so legalise the subsequent union? How many of these men can afford a divorce? Many of them would seek a divorce, but it is a fact that divorce is very often beyond the power of many of these people to obtain. It is also said that you are only taking up the case of men from twenty to twenty-five, and that therefore you are encouraging very young men to live a life of immorality by the course you are adopting. No, it is not only those men. Before the war started we had over 440,000 men in the Territorial Army; there was a very large number of irregulars in the Air Force and in the Navy, and also since the war started we have had over 210,000 volunteers—far greater numbers than have yet been taken up under the Compulsory Service Act. So you are dealing with a body of men who are by no means all in the younger categories. The average age of our Army at present is only just below 26 years.

The most reverend Primate has referred to the question of difference in status, and everything that fell from him, of course, was perfectly true. The normal Army Regulations make no provision whatever for payments in respect of any other persons dependent upon soldiers than their wives and legitimate children. These have a very definite claim on the public funds for family allowance; and certain other dependants are admissible under prescribed conditions. Those people have their very definite status. Then we come to this other class that are referred to in the Motion to-day; and they are brought in under special allowances and have no definite claim at all against public funds until the soldier himself has chosen to allot a stated portion of his pay towards the person to whom he would wish that allotment to be made and subsequent allowances to be given. The normal procedure is that he is called up for registration, he registers himself, and a time that may be as long as three months passes before he gets a notice to report for medical examination. At that medical examination, after which it is always a month at least before he is asked to join the Colours, he is given a form upon which he is asked whether he wishes to make any allotment from his pay to his wife or any other dependant. That is done in order that in the majority of cases, where of course it is a wife who is particularly interested, time will be given for arrangements to be made so that she can begin receiving her family allowance on the day the man joins the Colours.

Arrangements are now being made—they have not been made hitherto—to deal with another most complicated subject: the deserted or separated wife. Hitherto there was no means of knowing, except later on from the wife herself, whether the man had been married. Now he is going to be called upon to state, on the paper that he is given when he is called up for medical examination, whether he is in fact married and separated from a wife. Then, of course, certain arrangements described by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State in his Budget statement in another place have now been established so that will get at least what she receives under any court order before the unofficial wife receives anything from her allotment. The most reverend Primate asked me a question about pensions. He stated entirely accurately the position with regard to pensions. I only ask him to excuse me elaborating upon it. It was not mentioned in the original Motion, and of course the Royal Warrant is issued by the Ministry of Pensions, so to enable me to give a detailed answer I should have had to refer to the Ministry of Pensions, which I have not had an opportunity of doing.

Then we come to the six months which forms the second portion of the Motion moved by the noble Earl. There is nothing sacrosanct about the six months; it was not put in particularly in relation to this matter. It just so happens that it is the time that is mentioned in the Ministry of Pensions Warrant in regard to pensions; and also the period of six months is that which is taken for all purposes where it is necessary, in connection with the Dependants' Allowances Scheme, to assess the normal pre-enlistment position between the individuals concerned. In the last war the expression was "reasonable period"; but then of course it was understood that a reasonable period might be three months. "Reasonable period" can work both ways, but in this case six months was given as a reasonable time, and I do not think there is any particular reason for its being changed, because it is and remains just a definite minimum. In every single case, however, where, owing to the action of the man himself in making an allotment from his pay to a woman with whom he has been living, public funds are then given to that woman, a most careful investigation will be made by the authorities to satisfy themselves that the union is as genuine as any such union can be. I do not feel that I am able to say any more on that particular point at the moment. It is constantly being watched. We have, of course, received warnings of what might happen when these young men get to know the conditions and young people see their way, perhaps, to receiving public money to which otherwise they would not he entitled; and so a careful watch will be kept and every case will be investigated before any payment is made.

This is one of those deplorable matters which arose in the last war and has arisen again in this. It satisfies nobody, but it has to be dealt with, and it has to be dealt with, I claim, on the basis which I have described. We shall not fail to continue to give it every and full consideration; but in our imperfect world, to benefit the man, to enable the women and children to live, we do believe that we have adopted the best and sanest policy until we shall again be at peace.


Will the noble Viscount forgive me if I ask him to supplement his answer by telling us by whom these very necessary investigations are conducted?


I do not think that the arrangements are yet complete; they are being made now. That reminds me, however, that I did not answer the question which was put by the noble Earl, Lord Glasgow, about the possibility of their being dealt with through the local authorities. They cannot, of course, be dealt with by local authorities; they have to be dealt with by the Army Paymaster. It is an Army matter, not a local authority matter.


May I ask the noble Viscount one more question before he sits down? In the case of a man who deserts his wife and children and lives with another woman, and who then joins up and makes an allotment of his pay to his new mistress, never mentioning his having married before and his having any children, if the deserted wife never mentions the matter who is to find out and cause all this investigation?


The answer is—nobody. Unless we can get some information from somebody, it is of course quite impossible to find out.


I am talking from a concrete case, where the woman is at present applying for a divorce against the man and thinks that she will lose some form of status by applying for any separation allowance.


If we know there is a wife whom a man has deserted, we immediately find out whether a court order has been made. If it has, then we deduct three-quarters from the man's pay, and if that does not meet the court order the deficit is made up from public funds. If there is no court order, then it is dealt with by the military authorities—either the officer in charge of records or in some cases the Commanding Officer, whichever is the more convenient. He makes a compulsory deduction from the man's pay up to three-quarters; the man must be left sixpence a day. The Army authorities can then supplement it on the same scale as that laid down for wives at present. But we have to receive the information; if we do not receive information it is very difficult to act.


If the mistress has two children and the wife has two children, does the Army pay in both cases?



5.26 p.m.


My Lords, I have to thank the noble Viscount for his courteous reply. If I may be per- mitted to say so, it was like a breath of fresh air to hear one of your Lordships on the Front Bench not making a set speech but speaking from his heart. The noble Viscount said that there was nothing sacrosanct about the period of six months. I hope that when he says that it means that it may be possible to raise it to twelve months; there must be a minimum. I hope that the Government may give consideration to something of that kind, and perhaps the noble Viscount may be able to say that there is a chance of this matter being reconsidered on those lines.

The most reverend Primate said that he did not understand what I was talking about. I thought that it was quite clear, and I shall not go over it again. With the greatest respect to the most reverend Primate, who considered that a distinction was made, I cannot see that there is a distinction made. He says that a distinction is made because before anything is done for these women, there is a committee which goes into the question very thoroughly, and he says that that makes a distinction. I cannot agree with the most reverend Primate on that point, because once the woman is recognised as a dependent mistress she is on a level with a wife, and there is no distinction made between them. I maintain, therefore, that there is no distinction. The noble Viscount said that it was impossible for the question to be dealt with by a local authority because it had to be under the Army Paymaster. That is rather begging the question. Why must it be under the Army Paymaster? Why should it not be put on Public Assistance? If the Government agreed that it should be a Public Assistance matter, it would be.

The noble Lord, Lord Snell, made a very interesting contribution and dealt with a matter which I thought that other noble Lords would bring up, the question of stigma. He said that he did not want these persons and their children to be pauperised. I can see that point of view, but there is a stigma; there is a blot. You cannot take a blot out of a piece of blotting paper. The stigma is there and you cannot get rid of it. I have spoken to many wives of the working classes in Scotland. The working classes are the people who rule us, and I suggest that the working classes of Scotland are the backbone of the working classes of this country. I have spoken to working women on this question. I did not put leading questions to them; I merely gave them the facts, and they said that they were horrified. Some of them were ignorant of these facts, because the matter passed through another place so quickly. They themselves consider that there is a stigma on these people; they look down on them, and they are proud of their own married lives. I have been to these people and have asked them for their opinion, and that is their opinion. It is impossible to get rid of the stigma; the stigma exists, and nothing the Government do will get rid of it. I am advised that it is not the slightest use for me to go to Division on this question, though I very much wanted to, so with much regret I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.